E-Way Bill Rolls Out: A Reality Check On Day One

The e-way bill is the document that every trader and transporter has to generate online to transport goods worth over Rs 50,000 across states.

The e-way bill is aimed at curbing tax evasion by traders and transporters.

The e-way (electronic way) bill system under GST (Goods and Services Tax) for inter-state movement of goods has come into force from today i.e. April 1. The e-way bill is the document that every trader and transporter has to generate online to transport goods worth over Rs 50,000 across states. The bill, introduced under GST is aimed at curbing tax evasion by traders and transporters. However, on day one of the roll-out of e-way bill most trucks were plying across states without e-way bills as traders and transporters booked and released their consignments either on March 30 or 31, ahead of the roll out date.

"March 31 is financial year closing for us. It is a lot of book work we have to do. If we add the e-way bill generation to that, it will be a huge task for us. So we decided not to take any bookings on April 1. Also being Sunday, offices are shut. Most of our consignments were booked on March 30 and we have dispatched all. We will take fresh bookings from April 2 once we are done with our financial closing related work. So the real test of the system will begin then when majority of the businesses and transporters will log on to the system to generate the e-way bills. There are about 70 lakh trucks which transport goods almost daily. The pressure on the system is going to be immense," Rakesh Chugh, President, UP border Transport Association said.

GSTN chief AB Panday told NDTV prior to the e-way bill roll out, "We will be able to handle the load as per the kind of hardware used and the kind of testing done. We have done our preparation and we are confident that we will be able to sail through". 

According to GSTN CEO, Prakash Kumar, the system being handled and managed by government's premier science and technology organisation, National Informatics Centre (NIC), has been upgraded to generate 75 lakh e-way bills in a day. This is up from the earlier 26 lakh bills in a day.

But transporters are a little apprehensive about this. 

Hukum Singh Sharma, owner of Ajay Goods transport, transports goods of about 45-50 companies like L'Oréal, Dabur, Perfetti, MDH and Patanjali. For every company's consignment he has to generate a separate e-way bill. With a fleet of about 30 trucks, Sharma will now have to generate over 100 e-way bills in a single day. 

"Almost 70 lakh trucks are on the road every day. Most trucks are carrying multiple consignments. I think we will need the system to be prepared to handle a load of over 20 crore bills daily on an average because over and above the 70 lakh trucks, goods are also being ferried by pick-up trucks" Singh said. 

To ensure compliance Singh has invested about Rs 3 Lakh rupees but he is not sure if the server will be able to handle the load once the real action starts beginning April 2. "April 1 is Sunday and most transporters' offices will be shut. So the real business and bookings will begin from April 2 and by April 4 the bookings would reach its peak. That will be the real test for the system," Singh said.

At Hukum Singh's transport office in Basai village, in the outskirts of Gurugram, the system was working fine at midnight of April 1, as the load was much less. It took about 3-5 minutes to generate one bill depending on how proficient the employee filing in the details is. On March 30-31, bookings in Singh's office soared and Singh had to decline bookings as he ran out of trucks. But he fears that in the next 20 days to a month, business might take a hit as small traders would take time to adjust to the new billing system which means bookings would be less.

According to government, introduction of e-way bill is aimed at curbing tax evasion but transporters say it might be difficult to stop overloading - a common practice  among traders and transporters to evade tax - just by making e-way bill mandatory. 

"What usually happens is, suppose the truck has a capacity of 10 tonne, we will load goods of about 80 per cent with the e-way bill and another 20-40 per cent would be without the bill. This will be very difficult to stop," Hukum Singh Sharma who is also the President, Gurgaon Transporters Association said.

Some small scale transporters like Sunder Singh who has a fleet of about 8-10 trucks, have tied up with the companies they ferry goods for the generation of e-way bills but they are worried that in case the system is slow, these companies would not take the extra pain to generate e-way bills for them. In that case, their trucks would be stranded and they would incur financial loss.

For transporters like Sunder Singh whose trucks are on bank loans, a single day's truck in the bay would mean a loss of minimum Rs 5000.

"I had invested Rs 1 lakh in February when the government had introduced e-way to buy the computer and get people to generate the bill but government stopped it then. I work on very thin margins and now I do not have enough funds to put the necessary infrastructure in place to generate the e-way bills." Singh added.

There are other small scale transporters who have tied up with the larger ones to generate e-way bills by paying anywhere between 20-50 rupees per bill.